Sunday, August 3, 2014

Year of the Horse/Summer of Corn Soup

While 2014 is the Year of the Horse, it must be the Summer of Corn Soup. I've been eating out a lot this summer. A. Lot. And corn soup seems to be in high rotation on the restaurant scene. I'm not complaining. If you're all about farm to table and using seasonal ingredients (which seems de rigueur with many chefs these days), then corn soup makes total sense given corn's availability and sweetness during this time of year.

I happen to really like corn soup. Maybe it reminds me a little bit of the creamed corn of my youth. It was one veggie I gladly heaped on my plate. Probably because it was almost dessert-like, resembling some type of savory yet slightly sweet pudding. Cornbread in the south typically has no sugar in it. While I like that, especially dunked in a cup of milk, I'm secretly partial to the "cornbread" I find in restaurants outside of the south or from boxes sold in the grocery store. My grandmother calls that sweet cake. You can call it anything you want and I will eat it by the pan. This is coming from the girl who prefers eating yellow cake mix raw rather than cooked, so it really isn't all that surprising that I like corn soup.

I've actually become a little obsessive about it. I anxiously await the presentation of the menu at a restaurant and make a visual bee line to the appetizer section hoping, with bated breath, to see corn soup listed. More often than not it is, but the successful manifestation of it varies greatly. I feel like I've turned into my father. He nearly almost always orders French onion soup if he sees it on the menu. It doesn't matter if it's 10 o'clock in the morning or 100 degrees outside. He sees it, he gets it, and he's generally happy with it. Well, that's me this summer except that I'm much less accepting. I've started acting like a judge at an Olympic figure skating competition.

Hmmm, this one needs some finishing salt. 

Ohhh, this one is so silky. Did they run that through the chinois twice? 

Ahhh, the aleppo pepper really adds the perfect hit of smokiness and depth. 

I recognize that I sound like a moron, but it's as if I'm chasing the perfect bowl of corn soup.

I actually think I found it. I ordered it to share with my dining companion but after tasting it I was ready to fight him for it. And then I secretly wanted another bowl but was too embarrassed to ask for it. So, after seeing a bin of fresh corn at the farmer's market last weekend, I thought I'd try to replicate it. I'm sure the chef of the restaurant would give me a big eye roll right about now. "Bitch, puh-leaze," he's saying under his breath.  Whatevs. My version turned out awesome.

I don't think I can really claim much credit. The key, of course, is to get really good corn. Sweet summer corn is truly fabulous with its row upon row of plump, slightly misshapen and firm kernels in varying shades of yellow beneath it's silky cover. It's like unwrapping a present. 

Anyway, corn soup. It's really easy to make as the corn is the superstar. You basically just cut the kernels off the cob and simmer them in some broth and a little cream until tender. You could stop there but I was going for restaurant-quality corn soup, which would require a few more steps. Namely pureeing it. And then because I wanted fancy (as in "refined" not as in Iggy Azalea) corn soup, I strained it and discarded all the solids.

What you're left with is almost liquified sweet earthy summer corn. It's silky smooth and on the thin side by intention. It's ethereally light but quite rich. It's the essence of a perfect cob of corn.

Fresh Corn Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
8 cups of corn kernels (cut from 10-14 ears)
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup cream
1/2 stick of butter
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chipped fresh chives
Ground Aleppo pepper and good olive oil to finish

1. Warm olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions until caramelized, approximately 7 minutes. 
2. Simmer corn with salt, onion, chicken broth, cream in a large pot or Dutch oven, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender. Add the butter and stir until melted. This is actually what adds silkiness to the soup. Remove from heat. 
3. Puree soup in batched in a blender or using an immersion blender in the pot. As each batch is pureed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan. 
4. Reheat soup, stirring, on low, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. If soup is too thick, thin with a little chicken broth or water. 
5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a little Aleppo pepper and chives on top. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil. 

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